China's version of Venice

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China's version of Venice

Thousands of years' history combined with picturesque scenery make China's water villages enchanting places to visit.

Visit the Great Wall of China or the Bund and you'll have an amazing insights into some of the country's most fascinating eras. Visit one of China's water villages and you'll experience living history. Dating back as far as two millenia, these towns are surprisingly well-preserved and still very much inhabited, with residents ekeing out a simple living in much the same way as their forebears did. And the great news is that your clients have even more opportunities to check out water villages during their China trip, with tour operators increasingly incorporating them into their itineraries.

WUZHEN

World Heritage listed and dating back to 872AD, Wuzhen is among the most popular of the water villages. It's also the best preserved, with more than 80% of its architecture enduring from ancient times. Located at the centre of a triangle formed by Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou, this town is known for its ancient stone bridges, stone pathways and delicate wood carvings. Here, the locals purchase goods from trade boats, right through the windows of their houses, while blacksmiths and wood-carvers still ply their ancient trades.

ZHOUZHUANG

Up there in popularity with Wuzhen, Zhouzhuang has been around since 1086AD and is located close to Suzhou. Visitors flock to this village to see its traditional Suzhou architecture, whitewashed houses with black-tiled roofs and many stones bridges. The symbol of Zhouzhuang is the Twin Bridges - comprised of a round arch bridge and a square arch bridge.

TONGLI

Regarded as a less crowded version of Zhouzhuang and dating back to the ninth century, the village of Tongli is also found close to Suzhou. It's best known for its many islands and bridges - there are 55 bridges in Tongli and the most famous three (Taiping, Jili and Changqing) are especially significant to the locals. When a birth, birthday or marriage is being celebrated, residents will walk across the three bridges. One of the town's main attractions is the Retreat and Reflection Garden, which along with other classical Suzhou gardens is World Heritage listed.

XITANG

This town near Shanghai is truly ancient - dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period (771BC to 476BC). It's a place of covered corridors, lanes and bridges, as well as its various antique residences and temples. Xitang's main attraction is its unique Covered Corridor, with elegant carved decorative patterns in one section of this kilometre-long structure. It's a popular spot for visitors to sit back and take in the boats passing by on the canal.

ZHUJIAJIAO

Not everyone is aware, but even in Shanghai itself you can find one of China's ancient water villages - Zhujiajiao. The town dates from around 300AD, although archaeological findings in this area date back several thousand years. The most popular attraction in Zhujiajiao is the North Street, where tourists come to admire the wonders of ancient Chinese architecture.

NANXUN

At just over 700 years of age, Nanxun is not as old as the other water towns in China, but it is just as charming. An ideal day trip from Shanghai, this is a place of arched bridges, narrow canals, beautiful gardens, as well as 18th and 19th-century villas built by silk and salt merchants during the Qing dynasty.